Montpelier: James Madison University Magazine

Walking on Air
Montpelier Spring 2000

Two years ago, Susan McGuigan Scripka ('76) of Falls Church could not take a breath without the aide of an oxygen apparatus. Today, she's celebrating the 20-month anniversary of a double-lung transplant, performed on Sept. 8, 1998. "Walking on air" now, Scripka suffered from Lymphangioleiomyomatosis, or LAM, which is a progressive lung disease that strikes women only. LAM is characterized by the growth of nonmalignant smooth muscle cells that infiltrate the lungs. Although the cells are not cancerous, they act like cancer cells in that they grow uncontrollably. Over time, the delicate lung architecture is destroyed, blocking the flow of oxygen.

Scripka's doctors suspected everything from asthma to emphysema, which share symptoms with LAM. "I was on oxygen for three years," says Scripka. "I couldn't get my breath, and thought I was out of shape. My brother-in-law, who's a doctor, asked what my chest x-rays showed. But, my doctor hadn't ordered any. I immediately found another doctor. And, a friend from work knew someone who suffered from LAM. I asked my new doctor about it, and he hadn't heard it mentioned since college. Working with my new doctor, I feel like we pretty much diagnosed this on our own."

Scripka works in Herndon for Gourmand, an international gourmet food distributor. "When I was diagnosed in March 1996, I came off the road and started doing inside sales," she says. "My breathing continued to worsen and the stress worked on my heart. I was put on the transplant list. The call from the hospital came at 3:30 a.m. on Labor Day 1998. Good thing I only live five minutes from the hospital because they had an in-house donor and wanted me there at 5 a.m. - no helicopters bringing in a cooler with lungs - just a quick drive to the hospital."

Scripka spent two weeks in the Northern Virginia Hospital ICU. Although she was only in the hospital for 24 days, she suffered muscular atrophy and had to learn to walk again. The diehard optimist prevailed. She was only away from work for three months and returned for the Christmas buying season. "It is our busiest time of year," she laughs. "But being back at work has helped me heal. I am blessed with good friends at work and a supportive family. Today I am LAM-free."

"I can walk without hoses and smell all the roses," she says. "I'm an advocate for organ donation. I wouldn't be here without a donation. I talk to newly diagnosed LAM patients helping alleviate fears. I give them a positive experience to think about. So please, sign those donor cards. Transplantation works."

by Michelle Hite ('88)

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